It Is Better to Be Ruled by a Philosopher King

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 23 October 2016

It Is Better to Be Ruled by a Philosopher King

If one wishes to perfect one’s soul and reach enlightenment, then it is definitely better for that one to be ruled by a philosopher-king; however, if one’s main goal in life is to live happily and securely without worries, then it is arguably better for that one to be ruled by a prince. One should, however, seek to perfect one’s soul rather than seek for happiness and security alone, hence, it is better to be ruled by a philosopher-king.

This paper will first lay out the reasons why one should be governed by either a Machiavellian prince or a philosopher-king, and point out that the different benefits between the two rulers depends on the different sets of priorities in a citizen’s life. Then, the paper will argue why one should pursue the values under the rule of a philosopher-king rather than that under the rule of a prince. Finally, it will look at some counter argument, analyze and assert why the thesis is still superior.

If one’s main wish is to live happily and securely, then it might be better for that one to be ruled by a Machiavellian prince, since a Machiavellian prince’s main goal as a ruler is to secure his state. The perfect prince would appear to be “merciful, faithful, humane, honest, and religious”, but “know how to enter into evil, when forced by necessity” to “maintain his state. ” Consequently, the people living under this prince would benefit in the peace that comes with his reign.

Moreover, the people are free to pursue whatever materialistic goals they want, so long as they do not violate the laws of the prince. The prince is also neither “rapacious and a usurper of the property and the women of his subjects” nor is he trying to “maintain a name for liberality” so much that he “burden the people extraordinarily, to be rigorous with taxes. ” Hence, the people living under a prince’s reign will enjoy a sufficient life with stability, security and freedom to pursue their materialistic wants.

If ones seek to perfect their souls, to come out of the cave and “into the sunlight”, then life under the rule of a philosopher-king is ideal. Under the rule of a philosopher-king, the king will try to “[turn] the whole soul until it is able to study that which is and the brightest things that is, namely, the one we call the good. ” To do this, one must first “rid of [feasting, greed, and other such pleasures]” that one “had been hammered at from childhood”, and then “[turn] to look at true things. The philosopher-king, whose visions and knowledge is true and wise, will help educate the people by changing theirs desires, “[try] to redirect it appropriately. ” A life under a philosopher-king will benefit one’s soul rather than one’s materialistic life. It is obvious as explained previously that the key to the desirability of the two different systems, one under the Machiavellian prince and one under the philosopher-king, lies in how the people prioritize what they look for in life; hence, different sets of values will be satisfied by different political systems.

Thus, at first look, it seems impossible to determine which system is better because they are based on completely different sets of values. However, as one set is arguably better to pursue than the other, consequently, one political system will be more desirable than the other. The set of criteria in question is that under the rule of the philosopher-king. It is better for a person to pursue a knowledgeable, true, and rational life that a philosopher-king promises to provide than a materialistic and secure life alone that the Machiavellian prince promises.

First, it needs to be pointed out that Machiavelli also seems to see there is of little value for a prince to pursue materialistic desires, unless it serves a bigger purpose, such as the acquirement of “abundance of either men or money” serves to “put together an adequate army and fight a battle against whoever comes to attack them. ” Machiavelli seems to imply that a prince seeks not just power, but also seeks to be more glorious, excellent, and virtuous than ordinary men.

He states that as a commander, a prince should have “no other object, nor any other thought, nor take anything else as his art but that of war and its order and discipline”; and when a prince “have thought more of amenities than of arms, [he has] lost [his state]. ” This seems to imply that a prince should not seek trivial contentment, but only that of commanders; and as a leader, a prince should desire to be esteemed, feared, and loved, and avoid to be viewed as “variable, light, effeminate, pusillanimous, irresolute. Hence, Machiavelli seems to say that even though not everyone has virtues, thus, those who do will rise and become princes while the rest will be ruled over, it is desirable that one should aspire to become a prince, seek virtues, prove one’s excellence with his prudence. Socrates, hence, also seems to agree with Machiavelli that one should seek more in life than the satisfaction of one’s instinctive desires. However, Socrates disagrees with Machiavelli on two points. First, Socrates disagrees that only a few has virtues but everyone is capable of achieving more in life but rather everyone is capable of pursuing virtues.

Second, he believes that there is only the “virtue of reason” that, unlike others that “aren’t there beforehand but are added later by habit and practice,” has always been there intrinsically inside of everyone. He states that this virtue “never loses its power but is either useful and beneficial or useless and harmful, depending on the way it is turned. ” Socrates, thus, might argue with Machiavelli that the virtues that he assigns for the perfect prince are derivatives of this single virtue of reason, which is “forced to serve evil ends. ” Hence, the perfect prince is capable of horrid things, but still very clever to maintain his image.

Socrates perhaps can conclude that the prince described by Machiavelli is a case where the virtue of reason is turned to the wrong way. Thus, Socrates reasons that everyone is capable of pursuing this virtue of reason, and hence, capable of greatness, but they need guidance and education to “[turn] around from darkness to light. ” Machiavelli then might agree that everyone might be capable of greatness, but he still disagrees as to why any person with the virtue of reason should not become a prince to dominate others, but agree to be governed by the philosopher-king.

Now, assume that Socrates’ model of the human soul is correct and sufficient; it might give an answer to this problem. Socrates reasons that a human’s soul consists of three parts, a human who represents our virtue of reasons, a lion which represents our beastly power and aggression, also courage and nobility, and a multicolored beast with “a ring of many heads that it can grow and change at will” which represents our various desires, “some from gentle, some from savage animals. With the previously established argument that Machiavelli and Socrates may agree that the satisfaction of materialistic desires holds little value, hence, the scenario that the multicolored beast is in control can be eliminated, and so, the argument may be narrowed down to Machiavelli wanting the noble and courageous lion to dominate, while Socrates remains that the rational human should be in control.

The initial description of the lion seems to match the dominant characteristics of that of the Machiavellian prince; however, as Machiavelli says himself, a prince needs both natures of man and beast, since “one without the other is not lasting. ” The prince, hence, is still governed by both the man with virtue of reasons and the lion with courage and nobility. He uses the virtues of reason to acquire other virtues to become a prince, but he is still driven by the instinct of the noble lion to achieve glory and conquer others.

As the human is the “best part of [a human soul]” it is still best to have the human part be in control over the bestial parts, because then, the “entire soul settles into its best nature, acquires moderation, justice, and reason. ” Thus, people should seek to achieve this state of the soul where the human part is in control, it then takes care of the multicolored beast “as farmer does his animals”, and tends to the lion so that “the lion’s nature [becomes] his ally. This form of goodness of the soul is “the last thing to be seen, and it is reached only with difficulty. ” Hence, the people will want and need the help of a philosopher-king. Since “a democratic man like a city ruled by a democracy, and similarly with the others”, the life under the rule of a philosopher-king will be similarly to the life which the philosopher-king rules himself. He will ensure by laws or otherwise, that his subject citizens will be “the slave of [the philosopher-king] who has a divine ruler within himself. A philosopher-king does not wish to enslave the people to exploit from them, but only to help nurture and bring out the best of the people. When the people are ready, are equipped with “guardians and ruler similar to [the philosopher-king],” then the people will be set free. It will be ideal for everyone to be ruled by his own divine reason within himself. In conclusion, it is better to be ruled by a philosopher-king because one should goes after the values that the philosopher-king promotes.

That is, one should find the virtue of reasons, and by the power of this virtue and the help of the philosopher-king, pursue the ideal balance of the soul, where the human part governs his consciousness and reins in the beasts. The Machiavellian prince is still governed by both the lion and the human, and he lets the people indulge themselves in their desires, hence, the prince is not the best choice of ruler, for himself and for his people alike.


  • Subject:

  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 23 October 2016

  • Words:

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